Internet Addiction

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I find myself feeling frustrated that I don't have much time to do all the things that I want to do in the day, and yet I manage to consistently clock in two to three hours every single night just mindlessly browsing the Internet, flicking my thumbs on the screen as I lay in bed.

All that adds up to about 1095 hours in a year. Just last week I spent 19 hours staring at my phone as it likely hovered a few inches away from my face.

A screenshot of Screen Time. It's an app on my phone that shows how much time I've spent looking at things.

The irony wasn't lost on me when I happened to run into this article called “In Search of Lost Screen Time” on—you guessed it—my phone. It turns out that I'm in the company of 253 million Americans spending all their time and money hunched over their phones.

More than three-quarters of all Americans own a smartphone. In 2018 those 253 million Americans spent $1,380 and 1,460 hours on their smartphone and other mobile devices. That’s 91 waking days; cumulatively, that adds up to 370 billion waking American hours and $349 billion.

In “How To Break Up With Your Phone”, Catherine Price explains why most apps on your phone are made to be addicting—especially the ones that you don't pay for. They're designed to give you variable rewards like a slot machine in your pocket, tricking and taking advantage of how your brain works.

I've somehow managed to kill my addiction to Instagram and Twitter, but I've found that I've only replaced it with other websites like Reddit. I honestly didn't even realize that I was addicted to surfing the web because it seemed pretty normal to me to veg out and look at my phone for a bit after a long day. But I noticed that I haven't been sleeping well most nights, and that I haven't been able to stop myself going off on an Internet rabbit hole whenever a question popped into my head.

A screenshot of my RescueTime dashboard. It says that I've been mostly productive except for when I read some articles on the web.

So last week I started to use software tools to block or limit my browsing habits like RescueTime on my laptop and Screen Time on my phone. It hasn't been easy. I'm finding that I'm more irritable than usual, and I always catch myself literally reaching for my phone whenever I feel the tiniest bit of boredom.

I understand that it's going to take some time before I can curb my addiction—I've had a habit of falling down the Internet rabbit hole for most of my life (it probably started with a thing called StumbleUpon)—but my hope is that I can reclaim my time and to put more intention into what I do.

Dealing with this addiction has really cemented in my mind the very real effects that we in the software industry have on actual people. Also having read “Technically Wrong”, I'm seeing all the painful effects of our assumptions and unchecked biases on people on the other side of the screen.

And that includes us.